The History of Mother’s Day

The History of Mother’s Day

Each year on the second Sunday of May, families in the Bronx and across the U.S. gather to celebrate Mother’s Day.  Our staff at Woodlawn Cemetery take the time to acknowledge this important day and all that it means for families throughout our community. Since the 19th century, Mother’s Day has symbolized the sacrifice, dedication, and love of mothers. As you honor the moms in your life this year, consider the history of this meaningful holiday.


Learn about the women who made Mother’s Day the holiday it is today:


Ann Reeves Jarvis

Mother’s Day as we know it in the U.S. dates to the pre-Civil War era, when Ann Reeves Jarvis, a social activist and community organizer, started “Mothers’ Day Work Clubs” to instruct local women on how best to care for their children. These clubs helped unite communities still at odds after the conclusion of the Civil War.  In 1868, Jarvis established “Mothers’ Friendship Day” to promote reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers.


Julia Ward Howe

Julia Ward Howe and Ann’s daughter, Anna M. Jarvis, were two more major players in the Mother’s Day origin story.  Julia was a poet and reformer who helped improve hygienic conditions in hospitals during the Civil War.  Around 1870, Howe called for a “Mother’s Day for Peace” to encourage positive associations between veterans of the war.  Howe considered it the responsibility of mothers to encourage amiable relations in communities across the country. Howe’s Mother’s Day celebration faded in the years leading up to World War I, but it had a significant impact on social peace and progress throughout the country.


Anna M. Jarvis

After Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, Anna Jarvis of Philadelphia, wishing to memorialize her mother, campaigned for a national holiday for all mothers. For this holiday, Anna focused less on public service and more on establishing a day of recognition for mothers across the country.  On behalf of Mother’s Day, she solicited the support of civic organizations with telegrams, letters, and in-person speeches.  In May of 1907, a memorial service was held in honor of Ann Reeves Jarvis at the Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia.  On May 10 the following year, another service was held in honor of all mothers. Thus, the second Sunday in May became a day dedicated to mothers across the country.


This Mother’s Day, be sure to tell the mothers in your life how much you appreciate all that they do. Take the time to honor those mothers who have come and gone, and left a special impression on the lives they have touched. Happy Mother’s Day!